Photo Mark Rieder D8128-01

AN infectious disease that affects cows, but which does not pose a threat to humans, has been found at an Opotiki dairy farm.

Sybton Farm director Sam Jones has confirmed that the Waiotahe-based farm has been infected by the bacterium mycoplasma bovis. “That’s all I can say at this stage,” he said.

MPI Mycoplasma bovis Programme acting programme director Andre Nobbs said a dairy herd in the Eastern Bay had been infected with Mycoplasma bovis.

“The disease was determined to be present through a number of rounds of testing,” he said.

“A process is now under way to depopulate the infected animals on the property.”

Mr Nobbs said learning that the disease was present on-farm was disruptive and stressful for farmers, families and workers.

“The joint MPI, DairyNZ and Beef and Lamb New Zealand Mycoplasma bovis Programme offers support to farm families through our regional staff, and by funding the Rural Support

Trusts to provide support for affected farmers and their families,” he said.

“The programme’s regional teams have recovery specialists who help farmers get back to farming free from disease.”

Mr Nobbs said the bacterium was currently present on 25 New Zealand properties, and that 193 properties that used to have the infection had been cleared to return to farming.

“As part of the ongoing effort to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis from New Zealand, 130,000 animals have been culled across the country,” he said.

Farmers with verifiable losses were eligible for compensation.

“Out of 24,000 farms in New Zealand four per cent of farms have been under restrictions and required testing due to possible exposure to the disease,” Mr Nobbs said.

The three programme partners had been working to continuously improve the programme, seeking reviews by independent experts, as well as feedback from affected farmers and industry groups.

“Mycoplasma bovis first arrived in New Zealand in late 2015, early 2016, and isn’t widespread – it’s spread primarily by animal movements, and prolonged contact,” Mr Nobbs said.

“If we allowed it to go unchecked we estimate it would cause $1.3 billion in productivity losses in the first 10 years.”

Nearby farmers attended a meeting last Thursday, where representatives from the agencies who will support Sybton Farm in the healing process were present.

DairyNZ Eastern Bay consulting officer Ross Bishop, who attended the meeting, said he couldn’t go into the details of the recovery plan for the farm, as the plan was personal between MPI and the farm.

Mycoplasma bovis spread animal to animal

THE Biosecurity New Zealand website explains that Mycoplasma bovis is a bacterium that can cause a range of serious conditions in cattle – including mastitis that doesn’t respond to treatment, pneumonia, arthritis, and late-term abortions.

“The disease may be dormant in an animal – causing no symptoms at all,” the website states.

“But in times of stress – such as calving, drying-off, transporting, or being exposed to extreme weather – the animal may shed bacteria in milk and nasal secretions.”

As a result, other animals might be infected and become ill or carriers themselves.

The disease is spread from animal to animal through close contact and bodily fluids, for example, mucus and milking equipment.

“Calves can be infected through drinking milk from infected cows.”

Urine and faeces are not regarded as significant transmitters of the disease, but the bacterium can live longer in a moist environment, such as in piles of moist faeces or wet bedding material.

The disease is mostly spread through movement of cattle from farm to farm.

“Movement restrictions preventing the spread of stock off infected properties are the most appropriate measures to contain Mycoplasma bovis,” the website states.

Farm equipment may play a role in the spread of the disease, especially equipment that comes into direct contact with infected animals, such as artificial insemination instruments.

Vehicles pose very little biosecurity risk.

It is “absolutely safe” for trucks to move from infected farms to other properties.

All infected farms are under strict legal controls under the Biosecurity Act, which require comprehensive cleaning and disinfection before leaving the property.

Mycoplasma bovis is not a food safety risk.

It’s a disease that affects animal welfare and production and it affects only cattle, including dairy cows and beef cattle.

It’s common in many food-producing nations where infected animals that aren’t showing symptoms are processed for human consumption.